Making Continued Progress In Your 40’s, 50’s, And Beyond…

by tffitness on June 7, 2015


This is a post I’ve been wanting to make for a while now, and this morning, Ken Harnish’s query over at the “Strong And Over-40” Facebook Group spurred me into actually putting pen to paper. Here then, are the observations of a 55-year old gym rat/professional coach:

In my way of thinking there are two types of “0ver-40” lifters: novice and experienced.

Novice And Over 40

As a novice, your efforts should be focused on the following things:

1)    Learning and stabilizing lifting technique, especially on key movements such as deadlifts, presses, and squats — learn to maintain a neutral spine, squat to consistent depth each time, etc. Consider hiring a competent coach (maybe even me!), at least for the early outing.

2)    Quantify, monitor, and document your nutritional intake, and also bodyweight, and then making appropriate adjustments based on your body’s response to your nutrition plan.

3)    Have your hormones checked, and consider testosterone replacement if your levels are low. Why have the hormone status of a 50 year old if you could safely and legally have the hormone status of an 18 year old?

4)   A 65 Camero isn’t really an “old” car if it only has 20,000 miles on it. Your chronological age isn’t necessarily a limiting factor in and of itself — it’s more about how much wear and tear you’ve got on the chassis: if you’re 50 with healthy joints, you’ve got much more potential than a 30-year old with lots of injuries.

5)    Behaviorally, focus on consistency, not intensity. Your goal is getting to the gym 3-4 times a week (whatever is realistic for your schedule and personal circumstances). Just get to the gym, and once there, do what you can. Focus on movements that involve the most muscle groups and/or allow you to use the most weight on the bar (meaning, a barbell bench press should be prioritized over a barbell curl for example).

6)    Your training must basically force your body to adapt, otherwise it’s not going to happen — it’s not natural to be muscular, strong, and lean at any age, particularly when you’re past 40 — that’s why you rarely see it. Monitor strength levels on the key lifts mentioned in point #1, and make it job one to move those numbers upward.

7)    Sleep and calories are likely the most important contributors to adequate recovery. You don’t grow when you train, you grow when you recover from training. Hard training without commensurate recovery doesn’t build you up — it breaks you down.

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Experienced And Over 40

As an experienced over 40 lifter, the previous points still apply, but there are a few other important considerations to consider:

1)    If you’ve been training consistently (and properly) for many years, your potential for improving strength and muscle mass are limited, and that’s the most charitable way I can put it. However there are a few possible loopholes you can exploit:

a)     If you’ve been training improperly, there may be untapped opportunities for further development.

b)    Muscles that you haven’t trained particularly hard in the past probably have more potential for growth than your “favorite” muscle groups, which by now, are probably very resistant to continued training efforts. For example, if you have trained for many years but have never really trained legs, your lower-body muscles are still essentially “beginners’ to the training process, and as a result, will still be fairly responsive to training.

c)     As an experienced trainee, any form of training “novelty” will be a big key to continued progress. For example, if you almost never venture past 10 reps in your training, sets of 20-30 will be particularly effective for hypertrophy development. Using another example, if you habitually take generous rest breaks between sets, try using “insufficient” rests instead — doing so will be a form of novelty.

2)    For very experienced lifters, careful programming may be the biggest key to unlocking hidden reserves of untapped potential. Look for ways to optimize what Dr. Mike Isreatel calls “phase potentiation:” sequential blocks of training that build upon each other, such as a 6-week hypertrophy block followed by a 6-week strength block. Optimizing your programming doesn’t actually make you stronger per se, but it does better allow you to display the strength you already have through good fatigue management strategies.

3)    Even if you truly have no future potential for improvement, I’d like to make an argument for the value of maintenance training. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot personally at age 55 and having been training for decades. At first, the idea that you can’t make any further progress sounds depressing, but honestly, if I can have my current strength and physique 10 years from now, that actually strikes me as a genuine form of progress. The bottom line is that you should train as if you’re seeking further progress, even if it’s not possible. If your hypertrophy training is simply to prevent the loss of muscle mass, that’s what you need to be doing. When you’re a beast at age 70, you’ll be happy you adopted this mindset, trust me.

Still Have Questions? Good!

This post isn’t really intended to be the answer to all your questions, but instead, inspiration for better questions. I hope it spurred your thinking on the subject, and please chime in with any comments you might have.




Leave a Comment

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Tawnia duermit-justice

great article, at 54 years YOUNG mother of 7 children, and yes, I had them all in nine years, crazy!! Consistency is the key, in your diet as well as work outs. Eat to nourish and repair workout to stay strong and mobile. Quality of life should be your focus! Thanks again


Charles Staley

Thanks Tawnia!



Thank you for your input.


Scott Helmer

I am 55 and starting back to competition level. I had much success in my 40’s and have been off of the heavy lifting for almost 7 years. The one thing I notice that I MUST do is warm-up differently. More lighter weights before I get to my work sets. More stretching and unilateral type auxiliary lifts to compensate for my weaknesses I have accumulated over the years due to inactivity. Overall, my strength is coming back. The key is patience and consistency! I am looking forward to my first meet back in September!



Keep me posted Scott!


Rusty Green

Right on, Charles! I am approaching 70 and have been doing weight training since high school, but started your EDT about eight years ago with kettlebells. Tim really got me motivated in the DVD. I am still doing my swings, snatches, clean and presses, rows, etc. with my 20 kg; feel that I am in the best condition ever (and look pretty good, too, so says my lovely wife of 46 years!).

Keep up the good work and “never give up”!

Cheers, Rusty, Sedona, AZ



Thanks Rusty!


Bill Brooks

At 72 I just maintain and three times a week as I have for 50 years. In my small apt I have kettlebells , dumbells and chest expanders with iron mind hip belt. What training does for my mind set is so important



Thanks for sharing your experiences Bill!



I am also nearly 70 and have been doing different types of training most of my life and I still surf whenever I can find a good wave. I find these days if I load up with too much weight I tend to get injuries so I go lighter and have added a lot of bodyweight exercises to my program. This maintains good strength and flexibility especially when you do plenty of pull-ups, hanging v-ups (or leg-ups) and superman push-ups. I do a lot of core work as well as it helps maintain good posture as you age and holds my lower lumbar together.



Thanks John!


Bill Berry

Thanks again, Charles. I am 52 and recently PR’d on Deadlift 160 kgs at body weight 56 kgs. (now at 58 kgs) I train Muay Thai here in Thailand and now have 4 fights under my belt. Strength really is everything, although endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, and agility also important. Physical fitness/physical culture is my lifestyle. I take 3 or 4 months of each year for full-time training. I mix it up as best possible with a focus on Strength & Conditioning plus Martial Arts. Any sport, any activity is worthwhile and beneficial for people of all ages, but especially after age 40.



G8T reading and thought process, I’m 58 and have used the Heart Rate Training approach to my health, my resting HR now is 48. Having taken care of my old folk back here in India for over 10yrs now I’ve learnt it’s best to sort out all the unhealthy habits now. I’m hoping/planning to start competing in 100m &400m at the Asian levels for veterans in 2018 when I turn 60,and am confident to be able to hit the world levels by 65. I only do bodyweight training and am currently working at trying open out my hip joints. It was great coming across this article via Facebook from the interview you did with John Sifferman.



Thank you Anil!


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